Essentially, if social services are accusing you of physically harming your child, you will likely be eligible for legal aid. Legal aid can be very confusing but I hope to shed some light on what might be available to you.
If the local authority provide you with a ‘letter before proceedings’, sometimes called a PLO letter or pre-proceedings letter, as a parent with parental responsibility you are entitled to a form of legal aid called Legal Help Level 2. This is a low form of funding which permits a solicitor to advise you and engage in correspondence and negotiations with the local authority. It also allows a solicitor to attend the pre-proceedings meeting.
Once care proceedings are issued, if you are a respondent in those proceedings and you have parental responsibility (i.e. you are a parent), you are entitled to non-means assessed legal aid. This means that regardless of your income – rich or poor – you are eligible. Further, this legal aid is non-merits assessed which means that your prospects of success are not considered (your case could be strong or could be hopeless, you will still be eligible). In short, legal aid is automatic.
It is not the same, however, if you are a respondent or intervener without parental responsibility (such as a grandparent caring for the child or a boyfriend accused of causing harm). Here, your legal aid will be subject to a means and merits assessment. This means that the Legal Aid Agency will consider your income and your prospects of success. Legal aid is therefore not guaranteed. If legal aid is granted, it will be subject to review so if your circumstances change (whether that be financially or your prospects of success) your legal aid could be withdrawn. Both you and your solicitor have a duty to keep the Legal Aid Agency updated.
Is it possible to transfer legal aid?
So what happens if you have legal aid in place with one solicitor but want to change to another solicitor as you do not feel your case is being progressed as you would like?
Essentially, it is entirely up to you who you instruct; however, an application will need to be made to the Legal Aid Agency to transfer your legal aid from one solicitor to another. The process is relatively straightforward and your ‘new’ solicitor will be able to explain it to you. The LAA ultimately make the decision. Generally, applications to transfer are accepted and dealt with quite swiftly but they may take issue with people that have changed solicitors many times before.
It is important that you have confidence in the legal team representing you.
If you are looking for legal aid for an appeal, re-opening application or any other matter, click here for more information.